From Russia with hate

Column by Ben Zutter
Column by Ben Zutter

The 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia may begin this week, but they’ve been mired in controversy for months.

Johnnie Balfour, a Vancouver man who has been helping design and set up the ski and snowboard courses, has reported poor living and working conditions.

Rebel groups continue to threaten the safety of the event’s participants and visitors.

Now stray dogs are reportedly being trapped and poisoned by Sochi crews in an effort to clean up the streets.

A complicated situation

Most telling of all controversies, however, is the ridiculous contradiction between Principle Six of the Olympic Charter and Russia’s vaguely worded ‘gay propaganda’ law.

Principle Six states that, “any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.”

Russian law states that homosexuals and other people of ‘non-traditional’ sexual orientations must not promote their ‘propaganda’ to Russian youth.

In other words, LGBT Olympians are more than welcome to participate in the games, as long as they keep quiet about a deeply troubling and draconian law that violates what they stand for.

International reaction

Thankfully, people across the globe have gathered to openly criticize the policy, as well as the International Olympic Committee’s somewhat neutral stance.

Here in Vancouver, many bars have boycotted Russian vodka and protests are planned on Davie Street for opening day.

Coun. Tim Stevenson has gone to Sochi to promote gay rights and lobby the IOC for change.

Even well-known actor and gay-activist George Takei called for the games to be moved back to the city that hosted them in 2010.

So why, after all this, is a country with such backward policies and a reputation for human rights violations being permitted to host an event that is intended to bring the world together through peace, respect and tolerance?

Beats me.

Reported by Ben Zutter

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